How to play clean on electric guitar


In this quick tip guitar lesson, I want to show you how to clean up your playing by using good muting techniques. When playing electric guitar, and using a heavily distorted rock guitar tone, my bet is that you get a lot of unwanted string noise. 

Am I right? If so what we need to discuss is your ability to use fretting and picking hand muting. If you're a player that is less of a rocker, and choose not to use a heavily distorted tone when soloing, I suggest turning up the gain on your amp a little, purely because one day you don’t want to find out in the recording studio or on a gig that your technique is a bit shoddy and is letting you down as you can’t mute properly. A distorted tone is significantly less forgiving than a clean one. The video below demonstrates the techniques discussed in the post. 


There are two different ways of muting and keeping the unwanted string noise to a minimum. Firstly, we have fretting hand muting. Secondly, we have picking hand muting. Essentially fretting hand muting is where you use a finger from your fretting hand to stub up to adjacent strings in order to stop them from vibrating. Also, you can use fretting hand fingers to lay flat over other strings, not fretting them but just making enough contact to keep them quiet.

Picking hand muting is when you use the karate chop part of your picking hand to lay flat over unwanted strings at the bridge end of the guitar to also stop them ringing. This idea should be familiar to any rock guitar player, as this set up is almost identical to the set up you use for the chuggy style palm muting you add to your heavy rock riffs.


Let’s take a look at how to mute the strings with the fretting hand first. Set up your first finger so that it is fretting the 5th fret 6th string. Once you are in that position what you want to do is lay the underside of your first finger on the 5th, 4th, 3rd, 2nd and 1st string. Be careful not to fret them, you are not barring at the 5th fret, the only note we want is the one on the 6th string. Once your hand is set up in this fashion you should be able to strum through all six strings only hearing the note on the 6th string. 

If you have done this correctly you should be able to play all of the strings individually and only hear the 5th fret 6th string. Also, you should be able to strum through and no matter how hard you whack the guitar nothing will ring except the 6th string note. You will, of course, hear the percussive sound of the muted strings but that is to be expected. Ok now let’s take a look at what happens if we move our first finger note off of the 6th string and move it to the 5th string. This presents us with a new problem. What are we going to do about the 6th string? Well, the situation is this. You can fret the 5th string in exactly the same manner as you did with the 6th, so that you are fretting the 5th fret 5th string whilst laying flat over the other four strings, muting them and cleaning things up.

What you also need to do now is to stub up your first finger to the 6th string, so that the tip of your first finger is now touching the underside of the 6th string. Again, i explain this in the video lesson.

If we now move our 1st finger down again to the 4th string this presents us with yet another problem. We can mute the 5th string by using our stubbing up technique, and we can mute the 3rd, 2nd and 1st string by using our regular fretting hand muting technique. But what can we do about the 6th string? This is where picking hand muting comes in.


What you need to do is set up your fretting hand in the necessary manner to mute the strings that it can, and then place the karate chop part of the picking hand on the 6th string around the bridge area. If you strum the notes before you have placed the picking hand then place it whilst everything is ringing, what you will find is that the unwanted 6th string noise will magically disappear, leaving you with the desired 4th string note. On the 3rd string you will be able to mute the 4th, 2nd and 1st with your fretting hand and your 6th and 5th with the picking hand. On the 2nd string your 1st finger takes care of the 3rd and 1st while the picking hand mutes the 6th, 5th, and 4th.

Finally, when you are playing on the first string, the fretting hand can only stub up to the 2nd string, meaning the picking hand has to take care of all of the others. Before moving on, be sure that you are muting all six strings correctly, this is one of the most fundamentally important aspects of modern guitar playing. Don’t overlook it.

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